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It’s official – we’re in elite status crunch time. It’s just about the last two weeks of the year and everyone is scrambling to check their mileage balances and figure out if they’ll hit their elite status tier for 2014 and I bet more than a few of you are considering some mileage runs to squeak in under the buzzer. However, mileage running isn’t always a great option for many folks because airfares tend to be high in December around the holidays, it’s a hugely busy travel time, you can expect all kinds of weather issues, and a lot of us just don’t have the time to do it now. But even if you’re a few miles (or a lot!) short of your goal there are still plenty of ways to squeeze in a last few elite-qualifying miles before the end of 2013.
Note: I’m excluding status matches and challenges since they generally involve flying and this is a post about non-flying ways to earn elite-qualifying miles. However, if you’re interested in a match or challenge, here’s my most recent list of live challenge and match promos.
I just want to start this off with a caveat that no one is exactly sure yet how the American/US Airways merger will play out when it comes to 2014 elite status, but in the best case scenario, if and when the two frequent flyer programs do merge, hopefully they’ll let us all combine our flight activity on both airlines in 2013 toward elite status on both in 2014, but only time will tell.
American Airlines added another level of stress for their frequent flyers by discontinuing their “soft landing” policy earlier this year where they’d only drop elites one level if they didn’t requalify for their current status, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still requalify.
As a reminder, here’s how many miles/segments you need to qualify for each AAdvantage tier:
Gold: 25,000 miles or points, or 30 segments
Platinum: 50,000 miles or points, or 60 segments
Executive Platinum: 100,000 miles or points, or 100 segments
Pay For It: American announced a new set of options for elites having a hard time requalifying where they can pay to boost up to their current elite level if they’re just a little bit short, or to renew their status altogether if they’re far short of requalifying.
From January 2014 through May 31, 2014, American elites will have two options.
- Boost: If you end the year close to AAdvantage Executive Platinum, Platinum, or Gold status but don’t quite make it, you can boost to the next level.
- Renew: If you are an elite status member in 2013 but aren’t able to retain your status by the end of the year, you are eligible for a status renewal.
Here is how the new options breaks down:
- If you are within 5,000 miles or 5 segments short of reaching Gold status, you can boost to the status for the cost of $399. If you are you already Gold and are way off from retaining it and out of the “boost” range, you can buy it back for $649. Gold normally requires 25,000 miles or 30 segments.
- If you are up to 10,000 miles or 10 segments short of achieving Platinum, you can boost to the status for the cost of $899. If you are within 5,000 miles or 5 segments short of achieving Platinum, you can boost for $699. If you are you already Platinum and are way off from retaining it and out of “boost” range, you can buy it back for $1,199. Platinum normally requires 50,000 miles or 60 segments.
- If you are up to 10,000 miles or 10 segments short of achieving Executive Platinum, you can boost to the status for the cost of $1,799. If you are within 5,000 miles or 5 segments short of achieving Platinum, you can boost for $1,199. Unfortunately there is not a renewal option for Executive Platinum, which usually requires 100,000 miles or 100 segments.
Credit Card Spending: The Citi Executive AAdvantage MasterCard gives cardholders 10,000 elite qualifying miles when they reach $40,000 in purchases each calendar year – just under halfway to Gold status. You can find the rest of the terms of this card and the other best Citi offers of the moment here. While the public offer on the Citi Executive AAdvantage World Mastercard usually hovers around the 30,000-mile mark when you spend $1,000 in 4 months, there is currently an offer available for double the bonus miles – 60,000 miles when you spend $5,000 in 3 months. If you just got the card recently during this special bonus offer period, you might have a hard time hitting $40,000 spend quickly enough for the bonus EQM’s, but if you’ve had this card for a while, check up on your annual spending so far because you might be closer to that threshold than you think, and those 10,000 EQM’s can really come in handy if you’re close but not quite up to an elite threshold.
Elite Rewards Gift: American revamped its Elite Rewards incentive program for elite flyers who go above and beyond their status qualification thresholds by offering them gifts such as mileage bonuses and additional systemwide upgrades as soon as they hit their higher mileage levels, and among the gifts they can bestow is elite status. Flyers who hit 125,000 miles/points or 130 segments can gift someone Gold status, and those who hit 150,000 miles/points or 160 segments can gift one Platinum status good through February 28, 2015, so make nice with your high-flying friends and they just might give you the gift of status.
Business ExtrAA: Business frequent flyer programs can be a great way to double dip on airline perks since the individual flying still earns miles while their company earns points based on spending, which can then be redeemed for various benefits, including elite status. Best of all, you don’t even have to prove you have a company to sign up for a business extra account, and can usually just do so with with your own federal tax ID number. Companies with a Business ExtrAA account can redeem 2,400 points (the equivalent of $24,000 in spending) to bestow Gold status upon an employee. Gold status appointments issued through December 31st of each year are valid through February 28th of the next calendar year (i.e. Feb. 28, 2015).
There are a lot of things you have to consider with Delta requalification, including potentially negative changes to the SkyMiles program coming next year, and the fact that you can rollover any MQM’s above and beyond elite tier-qualifying mileage thresholds you may have already hit this year. While Delta does allow rollover, which is a great benefit in my opinion, they are not as generous with giving people status if they are close- even if you are 1 MQM away from the next status level, you should expect Delta to rollover your excess miles and keep you at the exact status that you earned.
But if you are going for that next tier threshold, here are a few ways to get some extra Medallion Qualifying Miles before the end of the year. Also note that starting in 2014, there will be a revenue requirement for elite status.
As a reminder, here’s how many miles/segments you need to qualify for each Medallion tier:
Silver: 25,000 miles or 30 segments
Gold: 50,000 miles or 60 segments
Platinum: 75,000 miles or 100 segments
Diamond: 125,000 miles or 140 segments
Buy MQM’s: Just like last year, now through December 31, 2013, Delta is selling Medallion Qualifying Miles. You may buy between 2,500-10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) that will post to your 2013 MQM balance and apply toward 2014 Medallion status. They should post to your SkyMiles account within 24 hours.
Prices are as follows for no status or Silver Medallion Status:
- 2,500 MQMs for $475
- 5,000 MQMs for $675
- 7,500 MQMs for $875
- 10,000 MQMs for $1075
Prices for Gold Medallion Status members are even higher:
- 2,500 MQMs for $595
- 5,000 MQMs for $895
- 7,500 MQMs for $1195
- 10,000 MQMs for $1495
Prices for Platinum and Diamond Medallion Status members are EVEN higher:
- 2,500 MQMs for $795
- 5,000 MQMs for $1195
- 7,500 MQMs for $1595
- 10,000 MQMs for $1995
These prices have significantly increased from last year, and personally, I won’t be buying any MQMs as there are cheaper ways to get them than buying them outright since the lowest rate with this sale is 10.75 cents per MQM – not a great value at all – but if you’re close to one of the higher status levels and just need a little extra bump and plan to fly Delta a lot next year to make up for the up-front expense of purchasing MQM’s, this could be worth it to you. Just remember that if you do buy them, they are non-refundable.
Credit Card Spending: Credit Cards: If you’re several thousand miles short of requalification, you might have time to get the Delta Reserve card, which awards cardholders with 10,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles with the first purchase, and 15,000 more MQMs if a member hits $30,000 in spend within the calendar year and an additional 15,000 MQMs with $60,000 calendar year spend. The T&C state “Please allow 2–4 weeks after your first purchase for the bonus miles to appear in your Delta SkyMiles account,” so it could come down to the wire, but if you get the card expedited and use it right away, it could save you from having to buy those 10,000 MQMs, which would cost at least $1,075 through the Buy MQMs promotion. There is also a Business Reserve card as well that has the same earning structure: 10,000 MQMs on first purchase and then up to 30,000 more with spend. One other thing to consider is the card’s hefty $450 annual fee.
One more thing to note about the Delta Reserve card: It actually allows you to gift the 15,000 MQM’s you earn after $30,000 in annual spend and the other 15,000 MQM’s after $60,000 in spend. So if you have the card and have hit that threshold (or are about to), you can give those miles to someone else who needs them.
The Delta Platinum Amex offers 10,000 MQMs for $25,000 in annual spend, and another 10,000 MQMs for $50,000 in annual spending, for a total potential of 20,000 MQMs. The annual fee is $150, but the card also entitles you to Zone 2 priority boarding, an annual companion ticket and 20% in-flight savings on foo and entertainment on every Delta flight. There is also a Business Platinum card product that offers the same amount of MQMs. Note: Delta does send targeted offers that are more lucrative than the public ones, so search your inbox for any recent American Express or Delta emailed offers.
Choice Benefits: Delta offers Choice Benefits to Platinum and Diamond Medallions, which include the option of gifting elite status. Platinum Medallions may gift Silver status and Diamond Medallions can gift Gold to anyone they want.
SkyBonus: SkyBonus is Delta’s business frequent flyer program so if you are already a member and have been flying and using your SkyBonus number, be sure to check your balance because you can redeem your points for Silver Medallion status starting at 100,000 SkyBonus points if you redeem them in January-June and will be valid through February 2015 (be sure to do it after the new year, because if you do it now, it’ll cost 160,000 points instead). If you’re part of a larger corporation with a SkyBonus account, ask your friends in the travel department if they have extra points floating around since they might be willing to redeem them to give you status. Some corporate departments also do enough business with airlines that they are given a certain amount of elite statuses to distribute, and since it’s the end of the year, they probably have a few extra to get rid of. It never hurts to ask!
Among the major US airlines, United makes it the hardest to earn elite-qualifying miles without flying. Also note that starting in 2014, there will be a revenue requirement for elite status. Here’s how many you need to qualify per level.
Silver: 25,000 miles or 30 segments
Gold: 50,000 miles or 60 segments
Platinum: 75,000 miles or 900 segments
1K: 100,000 miles or 120 setments
Buying Miles With The Elite Maximizer: Like the American Airlines Miles Multiplier option and Delta’s Mileage Booster, United offers the ability to buy miles as well as elite qualifying miles through their Elite Maximizer. The good news is that you can pretty much buy as many miles as you want – even enough to qualify for a tier of elite status. The bad news is, these miles are usually priced astronomically high, especially at the end of the year.
Normally United miles cost 3.5 cents each plus a 7.5% tax, and that’s just for bonus miles you can redeem for award tickets, not for elite miles. Using the Elite Maximizer, miles usually cost around 2-4 cents each. However, if you use the Premier Accelerator function, that price jumps up incredibly high to the neighborhood of 10 times as much.
Perks Plus: This is United’s business frequent flyer program where companies earn a certain amount of points per dollar on airfares they purchase for employees. Companies can earn between 1-4 points depending on the fare class (from deeply discounted to last-minute full fares). In addition to redeeming points for airfare and club passes, PerksPlus program administrators can redeem points for elite status. Silver status requires 60,000 points (it used to be 50,000) and Gold status requires 120,000 points (it used to be 150,000). It’s a pretty steep price to pay, but if you’ve been building up your balance, or you work for a huge company that participates in PerksPlus, you can ask if they have unused points sitting around that might expire since the points are only good during the year they’re earned and an additional 12 months after that. Some corporate departments also do enough business with airlines that they are given a certain amount of elite statuses to distribute, and since it’s the end of the year, they probably have a few extra to hand out.
Again, I just want to add a caveat that it’s still unclear how the merger will affect elite status going forward, but for now Dividend Miles’ Preferred program appears to be holding course.
Of all the major legacy US airlines, US Airways is probably the easiest to attain elite status with because you can just buy status outright if you’re determined to, and it looks like you should still be able to do that for 2014. Before I get to that, though, here’s a reminder of how many miles/segments you need to qualify for each Preferred tier:
Silver: 25,000 miles or 30 segments
Gold: 50,000 miles or 60 segments
Platinum: 75,000 miles or 90 segments
Chairman’s: 100,000 miles or 120 segments
Buy Status: US Airways is notorious for selling status outright. For example, if you’ve never stepped foot on their planes, you can buy Chairman’s Preferred (their top status) for $3,999 (though that drops to only $2,999 as long as you have at least 1 Preferred Qualifying Mile) or Platinum for $2,999.($2,499 if you have at least 1 Preferred Qualifying Mile). You’re basically paying for up to a certain amount of miles or segments in the following increments:
Let’s say you had a few hundred or thousand Preferred Qualifying miles in your account from this year, or even just a single flight segment but were planning on a lot more US Airways flight time next year, you could buy the highest status, Chairman’s Preferred, for $2,999, and that would entitle you to a host of high-level perks including 2 one-way upgrades to First/Envoy class to or from Hawaii, Europe, South America and the Middle East – potentially making up for that entire expenditure. Still, this wouldn’t by my preferred method of earning elite status, especially if you had a ton of miles to buy to qualify.
Credit Card Spending Bonus: Like many other airline co-branded credit cards that offer spending threshold bonuses, the US Airways Mastercard offers 10,000 Preferred Qualifying Miles after cardmembers hit $25,000 in spending each year, almost halfway to Silver status. Would I suggest putting $25,000 on your card at this point? No. But if you’re close to that threshold and scrounging for some extra PQM’s, you could consider it. Also, if spending $25,000 in a short time is within your wheelhouse, you could wait until January to do so and score the bonus PQM’s early in the new year on your way toward elite status qualification in 2014 while this card is still around pre-merger.
Join the US Airways Club: A quick, easy way to score 5,000 bonus Preferred Qualifying Miles is to join the US Airways Club or renew your membership by December 31, 2013. To get the offer, be sure to enter the promo code NM500 for new memberships or CR500 for renewals. Annual membership to the US Airways club costs between $325-$450 depending on your elite status. US Airways Club membership gives you access to over 250 US Airways Club, United Club and Star Alliance lounges worldwide until March 30, 2014, and then after that you will presumably have access to over 550 Oneworld lounges worldwide once the airline joins that alliance on March 31.
Special Dividends: US Airways offers Special Dividends to Preferred members who fly above and beyond elite-status qualification thresholds. Those who fly 85,000 miles or 105 segments in a calendar year can gift Silver Preferred status to a friend or family member, and those who fly 125,000 miles or 150 segments you have the option to gift Gold Preferred status to a friend or family member. For the uber-flyers out there, you get additional Gold statuses to give out when you reach 150,000 miles/180 segments, 175,000 miles/210 segments, and 200,000 miles/240 segments. So even if you’re not flying anywhere close to reaching these thresholds, maybe your favorite frequent flyer is and is willing to gift you status. Never hurts to ask!
Virgin America launched a two-tier elite status program in 2012.
To qualify for the basic tier, Silver, you must earn 20,000 Elevate status points – the equivalent of spending $4,000 in flight purchases in one calendar year.
To qualify for the higher tier, Gold, you must earn 50,000 Elevate status points – equivalent to spending $10,000 in one calendar year.
Elevate status points can be earned on purchased flights with Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia. Points earned from the Virgin America Visa Signature card do not count. Travelers earn 5 Elevate points per $1 spent on travel on Virgin America itself, though they earn points based on fare class and the distance of the flight on partners Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia.
Credit Card Spending Bonus: In addition to lowering the spending requirements to retain status for cardholders who status match from other airlines, the Virgin America Visa awards bonus Elevate status points when cardholders hit the spending threshold of $25,000 within an “applicable” (basically a calendar) year. Cardmembers that have a card with an annual fee will earn 10,000 status points (provided the annual fee has been paid) and Virgin America Visa cardholders not paying an annual fee will earn 5,000 status points. Each year will be measured based on billing cycle end dates beginning in January and ending in December of the applicable year, regardless of account open date. Any eligible purchases made after the December billing cycle end date will be applied to toward the next year’s status point earnings. As with most airline co-branded credit cards’ spending threshold bonuses, this one comes at a fairly high price – $25,000 – so you might be better off starting your spending for next year after the December billing cycle ends, but if you’re close to that threshold and can hit it with some reasonable purchases before your billing cycle ends, you might as well get the 10,000 status points since that’s already halfway to Silver status.